Monday, August 04, 2008

Distance Education Authentication - Just the Facts

Okay, I'm back. Nine days of being disconnected was an interesting experiment - but I'm really glad to be back online again.

As I previously reported (also here), those of us who are in the distance education business will not be required to start treating our students as criminals. We now have the final clarifying language (actually called the Statement of the Managers) regarding the Higher Ed Act especially as it relates to distance education. Contrary to some of the original fears (including my own), this Congressional act will NOT have the effect of making us put ankle bracelets on all online students - nor will we have to install webcams throughout their houses to watch their every move. Instead, we have to make sure that they authenticate (with username and password) each and every time that they login to our online courses - something that most of us are already doing.

A great deal of work was done to get this clarifying language into place. Leading the charge was Fred Lokken, chair of the ITC Board, David Baime, Vice President for Government Relations for the AACC, and people working in the office of Senator Henry Reid (D, Nevada) who was one of the bill's chief authors.

Here is the important part of the clarifying language (see page 136):

"The Senate amendment and the House bill require accrediting agencies to require that institutions of higher education offering distance education programs have a process by which the institution of higher education establishes that a student registered for a distance education course is the same student that participates in, completes, and receives credit for the course."

"The Conferees adopt the provision as proposed by both the Senate and the House. The Conferees expect institutions that offer distance education to have security mechanisms in place, such as identification numbers or other pass code information required to be used each time the student participates in class time or coursework on-line. As new identification technologies are developed and become more sophisticated, less expensive and more mainstream, the Conferees anticipate that accrediting agencies or associations and institutions will consider their use in the future. The Conferees do not intend that institutions use or rely on any technology that interferes with the privacy of the student and expect that students' privacy will be protected with whichever method the institutions choose to utilize."

Take a deep breath. Life goes on.Voices of reason have been heard. Hallelujah, or something like that.


Anonymous said...

Huh? What does this mean for all of us using open, third-party systems for teaching where our students aren't necessarily logging in?

Barry Dahl said...

Apparently it does add a new layer of concern for those where distance students do required course work outside of a password protected environment (no LMS, for example). Probably 95-98% of the distance learning happening in the U.S. is already in compliance with the username/password authentication that the law requires. However, it's not very forward-looking, is it?